Report on northern section of GR20


Posted: Thu, Jun 27, 2019, 10:34

So I finished the northern section of the GR20 Tuesday 18th and thought it might be useful for some people if I wrote a quick report on what I learnt/what I would like to have known before I started -.

- The route is hard, but not REALLY hard. This should be put in context - I'm in my early 30s, and do some form of exercise on 6 days a week - so I am quite fit, but the "hardest trek in Europe", maybe not. Maybe more like "the hardest trek which is widely known about and has hundreds of guide books on and which 30,000 people do every year". I mean it was the hardest trek I have ever done, but I thought it would be much harder.

- There are very few actual paths. Most of the route is over boulders of varying sizes, rocks and scree. There can't have been more than an hour in the whole northern section which was actually along an easy walking path.

- While it is certainly possible to double some of the sections along the northern route this is quite hard. I had lots of time, so didn't double any sections (in other words I did it in 9 days), but I thought it would have been easier to do this. When I looked at the guide book and it said 3 1/2 miles was going to take 7 hours, I assumed I would be able to double this day. While I did it faster than the guide book suggested doubling would have been extremely difficult. For significant sections of several days you are almost going up to 90 degrees - it's scrambling rather than walking. In 9 days I ascended a little over 10,000m and descended a similar amount. It's slow going.

- While the Gites do have some food that you can buy, especially in the more remote Gites, this is quite limited. Unless you are planning on eating the food that is cooked for you at the Gites (which costs a little over 20 euros for a meal) I would strongly suggest bringing dehydrated meals. In some Gites you can buy pasta and sauce etc, but in lots of them the food you can buy is limited to snacks.

-If you're a veggie and especially if you're a vegan, I'd suggest bringing your own snacks. In the Gites the main snacks are cheese and meat.

- The first 2 Gites really aren't very nice, but they get a lot nicer after this.

- There are lots of lovely swimming spots along the route.

- Some people on this forum quite aggressively stressed the need to have crampons and an ice-axe. While, it is impossible to know when the snow will melt, this was utterly unnecessary. I appreciate the importance of safety, but retrospectively, these comments feel a little like a bunch of middle-aged men wanting to sound important and serious. Of course if you do the GR20 in April or May you probably will need these things, but I saw 1 person with a ice-axe and the only people who had crampons were people that had read this forum. Against my better judgement I took crampons and all they did was add 1/2 kilo of weight to my bag. There were little sections of snow left, but they could easily be crossed without crampons. Please don't take this comment as me ignoring the safety risks attached to this route, but I think there are a few people on this forum whose comments should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

- Really do pack as light as possible - every 500g matters. I took a few too many warm clothes - I thought it would be colder on the tops than it was. In terms of warm clothes, I would say you only need a base layer, a decent fleece and waterproof - this is what I took plus a down gilet (which wasn't needed at all). And remember to bring flip-flops or some other footwear for when you're not walking!

-While I didn't do it, the southern section can be done relatively easily in 4 days.

So those are the main points I can think of now. It's an amazing trek and assuming you are fit enough, quite easily achievable and very worth doing.


Posted: Thu, Jun 27, 2019, 16:53

Thanks for the report and opinion.

The issue also lies with newcomers and foreigners who have little clue about the climatology and geography of Corsica... and sometimes lack common sense too - asking for instance *months in advance* whether there will be "snow" in "early June", without even providing basic details about what they mean by "snow", or about their prior experience and skills.

Snow is historically not unheard of in June (it's really easy to check: anyone has access online to hourly snow thickness reports as well as archives, there are live webcams too, and other hikers post current or past pics of the path on various social networks). It obviously largely depends on day-to-day weather, too; unfortunately the forecasting of heatwaves or storms is reliable up to a point. Luckily (for hikers, not much for inhabitants and farmers) a dramatic heatwave impacts the island early in the season this year, whereas last year snowfields prevented the ascent to the Paglia Orba as late as July 1st.

You forgot to check online in due time for snow reports, weather forecasts, and path condition... Who is to blame? ;) btw, by Corsican standards, the GR20 looks like a highway compared to other more problematic and even "harder" hiking paths.


Geologist in Corsica


Posted: Fri, Jun 28, 2019, 10:44

I feel that it is bit harsh to criticise the folks offering some advice.
I have never thought that the GR20 was the hardest trek etc...for me a very beautiful walk in amazing terrain, vegetation, meeting interesting folks and all the rest.
Up till now the PNRC folks have given reports on conditions and together with the images etc. you could make a reasonable assessment of what to do and take with you. These reports have ceased to be available this year?
My visit in 2013 it was obvious that given the reports that beginning the walk in the South was the way to go for me with an arrival in Corsica on the 1st, of June. I could assess that doing the walk that way round was without any winter kit with me that was sound. I even met folks on the bus travelling to the South who had arrived in Calinzana and decided that going from the North was not for them.
On my way North I talked to folks coming South and found out that almost all them had taken the minibus around from Haut Ascu to a road end above Calacuccia in order to bypass the still under the snow Cirque and continue south after the walk up to the Auberg Vallone. The folks that I met although carrying winter kit hadn't made any use of it....although depending on the time of day crampons would have been useful on the slopes between PP and Manganu. Anyway I arrived at the area leading up to the high point above Manganu ...snow was soft and the poles were useful as a travel aid. I was traversing up this slope when folks were descending this in trainers....made sure that when they passed that I was above them for obvious reasons.
When I arrived at Vallone three days later all seemed to be doing the stage in the reverse direction using the Navette to get to Haut Ascu.
I travelled alone to Tighjettu where a guide was meeting a couple of walkers to engage with the Cirque....they didn't fancy descending into the Cirque without some protection and advice. On both sides of the Cirque the snow was soft and rapidly melting and with a careful choice of route the passage was reasonable. I became aware in the melting and dripping/running of water that this place was a scary place to be in. In complete contrast to our earlier visit here a few years prior when heading South on the Jairvan. I guess that much erosion had taken place on this stage...not a place to be when disturbed stones/rocks could be heading towards you. I met three folks heading South using this passage.
Our earlier visit when moving from the North to the South was although a few days later when beginning in Calinzana was a joy sun-filled days with plenty of water at the sources and with happy trekkers only competing with themselves and the snow free terrain.

For Cirque read the stage over Monte Cintu and down to Tighettu….the stage four as it is today.

Josh is right on one area ...that of fitness prior to taken on the GR20 or any other multi day Scotland we have many hills and trails to visit and to keep up the fitness levels.
Yesterday with my off-road bike I travelled from home to Tromie bridge through the Gaick and on down to Dalnacardoch on the off road bike..and then using the bike trail beside the A9 road back to day energy levels falling off with cramps setting in... glad of a stop for a cold sweet drink in Dalwhinnie…..useful bit of training for future wee walks etc.




Posted: Fri, Jun 28, 2019, 11:37

I agree this post is a bit harsh. People give advice based on past experiences, but in the end you make the decisions. You can't blame others for your decisions. Josh do you think one day you'll actually finish the GR20 in order to give a more acurate opinion of the route? I agree it's a bold statement to say it's the hardest trek in Europe, and I don't think many of us go around stating this. There's no doubt "harder" treks. I agree this is probably the hardest that most people know about. The lovely thing about the GR20 is you can make the it as hard as you want, or take it real easy like you did. Just because you've heard the South is easier doesn't make it a walk in the path. There are difficulties beyond walking. I found the last days to be mentally difficult. I was lonely and I missed my friends, for me this was hard. Anyway I hope you enjoyed it.


Posted: Sun, Jun 30, 2019, 17:38

Many years ago I spent a whole month carrying a small ice axe around the mountains of Corsica, on and off the GR20. I only used it twice, for about 30 minutes each time. The first time, it was good to know that if I slipped, I would be able to stop myself going over a cliff. The second time, I did actually slip and used the axe to stop before I reached a pile of jagged boulders at speed. Sure, it would have been great to save the weight and leave it at home, but then I think of hitting those boulders at speed and I know I did the right thing by taking the axe and using it.

It only takes one slip!


Posted: Mon, Jul 1, 2019, 15:20

Well. I completed the entire GR20 a few days ago, going south-north. I did meet people at the beginning of the trek who had to bypass the Monte Cinto stage due to the snow. Had they carried crampons and an ice ax, I’m sure they could have done it.

I suspect the notion that the southern section is so easy comes from the fact that most people start in the north. So, they are more fit by the time they reach Vizzavona.

Certainly both of the times I completed the GR20 I found the northern part to be way easier than the southern part - for that very reason.


Posted: Mon, Jul 1, 2019, 22:30

Sorry to ask such a basic question I'm sure is answered elsewhere, but how can I find out current status of snow? I'm planing to start from Calenzana in a week. After this week's record breaking heatwave, I'm hopeful the snow will be gone by then... but would like to be sure. Thanks in advance.


"Who possesses this landscape? –
The man who bought it or
I who am possessed by it?"
Norman McCaig


Posted: Mon, Jul 1, 2019, 22:47

No more snow on the path. The only remnants of snow you'll see are packed in a few shaded ravines here and there ;)


Geologist in Corsica


Posted: Tue, Jul 2, 2019, 7:13

This is great news. I can forget about carrying an ice axe and crampons. Many thanks!


"Who possesses this landscape? –
The man who bought it or
I who am possessed by it?"
Norman McCaig


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